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Horehound Herb

White horehound is a perennial aromatic herb native to the region between the Mediterranean Sea and Central Asia, now naturalized in North America (Budavari, 1996; Knss and Zapp, 1998; Leung and Foster, 1996). In Asia, its range includes the western temperate Himalayas, Kashmir, the N.W. Frontier Province (India) and Baluchistan (southwest Pakistan and southeast Iran) (Karnick, 1994; Nadkarni, 1976). The material of commerce comes mainly from Hungary and also from France, Italy, and Morocco (BHP, 1996; Wichtl and Bisset, 1994).

Horehound has been used as an expectorant cough remedy since ancient Egyptian times (Bown, 1995). Its name comes from the word hoary, due to the white hairs that cover horehound leaves, and hound, because it was used in ancient Greek medicine to treat bites from rabid dogs (Tyler, 1993). The sixteenth century Elizabethan herbalist John Gerard indicated its use for wheezing and tuberculosis (Tyler, 1993) as did seventeenth century English herbalist Nicholas Culpepper (Grieve, 1979). Horehound is used in Indian Ayurvedic medicine to treat acute or chronic bronchitis and whooping cough (Karnick, 1994; Nadkarni, 1976). Its uses in North American aboriginal medicines are comparable to the Asian and European uses. The Cherokee use horehound as a cold remedy, cough medicine, and throat aid and prepare a cough syrup by combining the infusion with sugar. The Navajo prepare the infusion to treat sore throat. The Kawaiisu prepared hot or cold aqueous infusions of the leaves and flowering tops to treat coughs and colds. Additionally, they prepared a syrup to treat respiratory ailments (Moerman, 1998).

In Germany, horehound is used to treat dyspeptic complaints such as feeling of repletion, flatulence, and loss of appetite. It is also used for catarrh of the respiratory tract (BAnz, 1998; MeyerBuchtela, 1999; Wichtl and Bisset, 1994) as a component of some antitussive and expectorant drugs. It is also an ingredient in various multiherb "liver and bile teas" such as "Species cholagogae AB" ( AB, 1983; Wichtl and Bisset, 1994). It is a common expectorant component of Europeanmade herbal cough remedies (e.g., Ricola lozenges) that are sold in the United States. It was formerly official in the United States Pharmacopeia (Boyle, 1991).

Horehound has been used traditionally as an expectorant, to treat whooping cough and nonproductive coughs of bronchitis and tuberculosis (Felter and Lloyd, 1985; Grieve, 1979; Newall et al., 1996; Tyler, 1993). Since these conditions are now primarily treated with antibiotics or prevented with vaccines, horehound's use as an expectorant is not as common, despite evidence that attests to its probable efficacy (Tyler, 1993). Animal studies have shown that horehound preparations are choleretic. This activity is attributed to the marrubic acid, which, in laboratory tests, increased bile flow in rats (Krejci and Zadina, 1959). Marrubiin has also been observed to enhance bronchial mucosa secretion, and to have cardiac actions. It is antiarrhythmic in therapeutic doses, but proarrhythmic in large doses (Tyler, 1993). The approved modern therapeutic applications for horehound are supportable based on its long history of use in well established systems of traditional medicine, phytochemical investigations, in vitro studies, and pharmacological studies in animals.

Pharmacopeial grade white horehound consists of the dried leaves and flowering tops of Marrubium vulgare L. Botanical identity must be carried out with thinlayer chromatography (TLC), macroscopic and microscopic examinations, and organoleptic evaluations. It must contain not less than 15% watersoluble extractive (BHP, 1996). The Hungarian Pharmacopoeia
Horehound Herb
VII requires microscopic tests for identity, qualitative tests for other plant parts, foreign organic matter, and bitter value. Based on recent phytochemical studies, a proposal has been made to amend the monograph to include new qualitative and quantitative chemical tests for determination of the main terpenoid substances, premarubiin and marrubiin (Ph.Hg.VII, 1986; Telek et al., 1997). Marrubiin is a furanic labdane diterpene with a lactone ring system and it evolves from the genuine diterpene premarrubiin during the extraction process (Knss and Zapp, 1998). The Austrian Pharmacopoeia requires a bitterness value of not less than 3,000 ( AB, 1983; Wichtl and Bisset, 1994).


Horehound herb consists of the fresh or dried, aboveground parts of M. vulgare L. and their preparations in effective dosage. The herb contains bitter principles and tannins.

Chemistry and Pharmacology

Horehound contains 0.31% bitter diterpene principles, mainly marrubiin, which has a bitterness index (BI) of 65,000 (Leung and Foster, 1996; Wagner et al., 1984); diterpene alcohols, including peregrinol, vulgarol, marrubiol, marrubenol, and phytol; up to 7% tannins; alkaloids including approximately 0.3% betonicine and stachydrine; 0.2% choline; 0.05%0.06% volatile oil, mainly monoterpenes; flavonoids (apigenin, luteolin, quercetin, and their glycosides); and minerals, particularly potassium (Bradley, 1992; Hnsel et al., 19921994; Leung and Foster, 1996; MeyerBuchtela, 1999).

The Commission E reported that marrubinic acid works as a choleretic.

The Merck Index reported expectorant action (Budavari, 1996). The British Herbal Compendium reported expectorant and bitter tonic actions. Marrubiin and the volatile oil contribute to the expectorant action by stimulating secretion from the respiratory tract's mucous membranes (Bradley, 1992).


The Commission E approved horehound herb for loss of appetite and dyspepsia, such as bloating and flatulence.

The British Herbal Compendium indicates its use for acute bronchitis, nonproductive coughs and catarrh of the respiratory tract as well as for lack of appetite and dyspepsia (Bradley, 1992). In France, it is indicated for use as a cough remedy and to treat acute benign bronchial affections (Bradley, 1992; Bruneton, 1995; DPM,

Other useful herb information: Valerian | Cascara Sagrada | Eleuthero | Butcher broom | Activated Charcoal | Yellow Dock | Bearberry

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